December 2, 2016 11:00 AM, EST

Nikola Reveals Class 8 Hydrogen-Electric Truck

SALT LAKE CITY — Deliveries of the Nikola One hydrogen-electric Class 8 tractor produced by Nikola Motor Co. will begin in 2020, and the company has moved forward with plans to design a day cab, called the Nikola Two. People in trucking said the technology has the potential to change the industry.

Nikola Motor Co. unveiled the tractor here in front of 600 guests, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and representatives from some of the country’s largest fleets.

“This could be the game-changer we’re all looking for,” said Max Fuller, CEO of U.S. Express Enterprises, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. “This truck can go 1,200 miles. Electric trucks today are 120 miles.”

Scott Romans, CEO of Romans Motor Freight, based in Omaha, Nebraska, has reserved 25 Nikola One tractors and plans to run them from California to Ohio. “You look around and change is coming in all aspects, and trucking is going to follow,” he said.

During the unveiling, Trevor Milton, founder and CEO of Nikola, said his goal was to revolutionize the trucking industry, and he believes the Nikola One will do that by offering zero emissions, decreased maintenance, more power and improved safety. 

Milton said a Nikola One pulling a 6% grade can maintain 65 miles per hour, which a diesel-powered tractor cannot. The vehicle features a motor on every wheel, so it can accelerate faster and offers shorter stopping distances. Milton said the tractor also offers increased miles per gallon, averaging 15.4.

Twelve cameras provide surround vision to improve safety. The vehicle also has a lower center of gravity — two to three feet lower than a traditional Class 8 tractor — because the batteries are located in the frame rail.

The Nikola One has the potential to increase fleets’ payload because it will weigh about 2,000 pounds less than its diesel equivalent because there is no transmission, engine, emissions equipment or drivetrain, Milton said.

Romans said he expects to see a benefit from decreased maintenance. “There are fewer moving parts,” he said.

Nikola has selected Ryder System Inc. as its exclusive nationwide distribution and maintenance provider. Ryder, which has a network of more than 800 service locations in North America, will provide nationwide sales, service and warranty work.

“This relationship is key to expanding our advanced vehicle technology portfolio of innovative solutions,” said Dennis Cooke, president of global fleet management solutions for Miami-based Ryder. “Ryder continually monitors emerging fleet technologies and seeks to establish relationships with companies that are leading innovation within the commercial transportation industry.”

Allan Wainscott, general sales manager at Thompson Truck Centers, a division of Thompson Machinery, said three of the greatest challenges in the trucking industry today are meeting future EPA regulations, attracting young professional drivers and managing operating cost. “Trevor has addressed all three of these challenges,” he said, adding that going electric eliminates some of the primary repairs fleets face. “You don’t have engine overhauls or transmission repairs.”

Thompson Machinery, a Caterpillar dealer and an early investor in Nikola Motor Co., also will offer sales and service in Tennessee and Mississippi. Wainscott said the dealership already has received interest from several fleets. “They are very excited about the all-electric solution,” he said, adding that Thompson’s ownership has always believed electric transportation was the direction the industry is headed.

Wainscott said the Nikola One’s on-board power generation provides a significantly longer range than any other clean energy truck on the market today, and it doesn’t need to be plugged in or recharged. “Some people think they’ll need extension cords running to the trucks in their fleet, but that’s not the case,” he said.

The Nikola One utilizes a fully electric drivetrain powered by high-density lithium batteries. Energy will be supplied on the go by a hydrogen fuel cell while delivering over 1,000 horsepower and 2,000 pound-feet of torque, which the company says is nearly double that of any semi-truck on the road.

“I look at this truck as a heart transplant. Nikola has taken a reciprocating engine, driveline and transmission out and put in an on-board power generation, electric motors and batteries. This will save weight, reduce emissions, increase fuel economy and improve drivability,” Wainscott said.

Fuller told Transport Topics the Nikola One has the potential to attract drivers and said the cab of the Nikola One is like a small apartment for drivers. “The comfort will be far superior to what we have now,” he said. U.S. Xpress Enterprises ranks No. 19 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

The first 5,000 vehicles will be built by Fitzgerald Truck Parts & Sales, based in Byrdstown, Tennessee, while Nikola moves forward on its $1 billion manufacturing facility. Milton said the company will select the facility’s location next year.

Milton said Nikola has almost $4 billion in pre-orders from about 8,000 fleets, and the company plans to release a 72-month lease program, as the truck will not be available for purchase initially. Instead, customers will lease the vehicle for between $5,000 and $7,000 a month, which includes fuel and maintenance for the first 1 million miles or seven years, whichever comes first. The company will cover the cost of hydrogen for the first 1 million miles. Nikola has plans to build 364 hydrogen fueling stations with construction starting in 2018 to support the vehicles.

During the event, Milton said the Nikola Two day cab will have the same performance as the Nikola One. He also told attendees about Nikola Shipments, which would connect drivers to freight and outline the most efficient and lucrative route via an in-cab screen. “We could change owner-operator income by up to 50%,” he said.   

Milton assured attendees that the Nikola One is becoming a reality. “This truck will come to market. I can promise you that,” he said.